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Film Review: “Cerebrum” Weaves a Complex Thriller That Only Goes So Far

Written by: Adam Vaughn | May 4th, 2021

Film poster: “Cerebrum”

Cerebrum (Arvi, 2021) 2½ out of 4 stars.

Arvi’s directorial debut Cerebrum takes a refreshing approach to science fiction by exploring a subgenre rarely touched by filmmakers. Here, he tackles the idea of being able to manipulate, implant and embody another person’s memories and personas exploring the repercussions of messing with the human brain and its capabilities. While Cerebrum fully embraces a fresh and promising concept, it limits itself in its ability to fully explore its own ideas through a lackluster production design, showcasing plain or disinteresting imagery that never gives the film a unique look.

Cerebrum tells the story of Tom Davis (Christian James), whose father, Dr. Kirk Davis, has recently discovered the key to “backing up” one’s physical brain memory. As Tom discovers more of his father’s work by voluntarily having himself induced, he starts to lose grasp of his own identity, unleashing the ability to transfer mindsets from one brain to another. With his father’s former research partners plotting to steal Kirk’s work and eliminate any ties to the Davis family in the process, Tom must find a way to continue to pursue his dad’s research, all the while saving his own life.

Christian James in CEREBRUM ©Black Velvet Films

Cerebrum sets out to play with a really fascinating premise, and the writing behind the intricacy of switching identities certainly compels the viewer in many ways. There is some specific and believable energy in the acting and direction that allows for the illusion of various characters to embody other character’s minds, and Arvi does so in a way that never deviates from a strict, dramatic tone. Cerebrum fully owns up to establishing the rules of engagement with memory swapping, and even takes it to personal levels, particularly when exploring Tom’s family dynamics towards the first half of the film.

Unfortunately, Cerebrum spends far too much time playing with the whodunit elements of the story, and overcomplicates an otherwise straightforward plot line. A regrettable balance of predictable outcome mixed with unimpressive visual elements give the film a stagnant effect. Arvi eliminates the one character who holds the most interest to the viewer within the first forty minutes of the film, and what’s left is a group stumbling to arrive to the end of the predictable outcome.

Alexxis Lemire in CEREBRUM ©Black Velvet Films

Ultimately, the biggest obstacle the film creates for itself is getting stuck on a story arc that can be told in 15 minutes, tops, stretching it to feature-length with flashbacks, repetitive scenes of Tom with various personas, and plot reveals that can be seen a mile away. There’s a lot to appreciate about the exploration of the human psyche, and Arvi does have several thought-provoking moments as Tom explores his father’s work and figures out its boundaries. While I strongly hope the theme of brain control plays a bigger role in future science-fiction cinema, Cerebrum serves only as the first step to doing so.

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Adam Vaughn is a graduate of the Film & Moving Image program at Stevenson University, with a focus in Cinematography and Production. He also has a minor in Theater and Media Performance. Adam works as a freelance photographer and videographer, focusing his craft on creating compelling photographic and cinematic imagery. Adam is excited to join the Film Festival Today team and explore the world of cinema and visual arts.

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